Bizarre Bazaars

Infused by indie spirit, holiday shows forge a funkier image

November 24, 2007|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN REPORTER

"Cute" is a seasonal verity, particularly at holiday bazaars. What's a Christmas craft fair without precious pine cone rings, crocheted tea cozies or knitted kittens wreathed in boughs of holly?

With a sly spin on mainstream decorative culture, though, a legion of "indie" artisans has unleashed a new wave of holiday craft shows, where potholders, aprons and ceramic mugs are as saucy as they are cute.

At Charm City Craft Mafia's "Holiday Heap" show Dec. 1 at St. John's of Baltimore United Methodist Church, expect a marketplace crammed with such holly-jolly subversion.

Here's a small sampling of Holiday Heap's offerings: Dresses silk-screened with mock-kitsch images of kitchen wares; knitted, fingerless gloves for the biker about town and adorable cotton monsters with fiendish grins.

A local flurry of other seasonal craft shows, including today's "Bazaart" fundraising fair at the American Visionary Art Museum, aren't necessarily inspired by the current DIY craze, which favors homemade everything over pre-fab anything, yet the shows still reflect the creative leaps contemporary artisans take with entrepreneurial gusto.

The proliferation of craft shows with a DIY spirit speaks to a new generation of young entrepreneurs who want to apply their skills in fresh, small-scale ways, says Craft Mafia member Rachel Bone, 25. A painter and printmaker trained at Syracuse University, Bone produces a droll line of silk-screen scarves, dresses and T-shirts for her company, Red Prairie Press, based in her Hampden home.

Craft Mafia member Christalena Hughmanick, also 25, makes ponchos in a wavy lace motif and fingerless gloves in a trademark honeycomb pattern for It Knits, her one-woman company in Mount Vernon. Hughmanick and other artists are using "traditional processes in a new, funky way," she says.

Vendors found at Holiday Heap and other alternative fairs both set and heed trends, as evidenced by the display of scores of au courant messenger bags, jewelry made from recycled materials, cheeky underwear, winsome watercolors, homegrown CDs and organic body-care products.

Holiday Heap's participating artists are also chosen for their modest pricing, which ranges, with one exception, from $1 to $100. Only the six-string cigar-box guitars by m3this, a Silver Spring company, cost more, Bone says. "We want people to afford our stuff," she says. "We want it to be a shopping event, not a looking event."

The Charm City craft group is a local affiliate of the Austin Craft Mafia, founded in Texas as a support network for nine independent business owners. "We're all trying to be savvy business people, but first and foremost, we're artists," Hughmanick says of the Craft Mafia's credo.

Juried shows that share Holiday Heap's hipster attitude and support of fledgling enterprises are surfacing in dozens of cities. The Renegade Craft Fair, an enormous event that exemplifies the DIY movement, takes place annually in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Chicago. This February, the American Craft Council will recognize the indie movement with a participant category called "New Wave Craft."

The council has invited 400 young artists to apply for about 20 New Wave slots, says Mary Fichter, director of marketing and communications. To sell their creations in the retail portion of the craft show, selected artists will pay a fraction of the council's standard fee.

The well-established craft council has upstarts nipping at its feet. "We used to be the only show in town," Fichter says. In the past five years, "so many independent, local, nonjuried [and juried] shows" have cropped up, she adds.

"With all of these Craft Mafia [and other] groups getting together, we want to reach out and celebrate crafts and all makers together," Fichter says.

"Indie" doesn't always mean brand-new. This will be the 18th year for "Out of Hand," a juried craft show that takes place on Dec. 2 in North Baltimore. Typically, offerings found at this show share the DIY crowd's sense of humor, but techniques and materials often put its creations out of reach for the young folks Holiday Heap's organizers hope to attract.

Prices at Out of Hand range from $5 to $5,000, says the fair's founder, Sandra Magsamen, known for her whimsical ceramic tiles and inspirational writings. Still, Out of Hand has preserved its cozy ambience while attracting a well-heeled clientele. It's a nurturing show, Magsamen says. "We even have a massage therapist."

Out of Hand's jury process is open to younger and older artists, Magsamen says. She speaks of a new participant named Julie St. Marie, who after having left a business career is baking cakes.

Although different craft shows may feature some of the same artists, each show has its own aura. The paintings, sculpture, paper crafts, mixed media and other work to be found at Bazaart, "is much more centered around untrained, more folklike artists," says Magsamen, who is also helping to plan the AVAM fundraiser.

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